Monday, February 27, 2006

Mondo Magic Returns, But Not In USA

Me Luv Magic Long Time

It is not fun to be working when you’re at the beach. Most people there are either swimming, strolling, playing beach volleyball, getting a tan or chilling out. As one of a handful of journalists, our assignment was to follow the Mondo Magic film crew and see magicians Chris Korn and J.B. Benn go up to unsuspecting beachgoers and make believers out of them.

We met up with Korn, Benn and the film crew around noon at Silosa Beach on Sentosa Island, Singapore.

Korn goateed and lanky, dressed the part in a white T-shirt and shorts, sporting a visor cap. Benn, who is about a head shorter and beefier than Korn, was in T-shirt and jeans. My suspicions were that Benn, whose dark brown eyes held secrets beyond my experience, was mostly quiet and a tad introverted unlike his partner who was just the opposite. It was a good fit and their differing personalities matched their talents although they were both in the same field.

“Benn’s style is slightly more intense and it shows with the tricks he does,” said Korn.

Indeed, Benn looks more focused when he is performing his magic and he can mysteriously bend coins without touching them or stick three rings together with no way of pulling them apart. Korn on the other hand, is easy going and makes people laugh.

It was Korn who combed the beach mostly and wowed the crowd with his sleight of hand, card and coin tricks. He met with some difficulty though with some of the card tricks mainly because of the humidity, which made the cards damp and rather slippery.

One trick in particular, where Korn asked a bikini-clad sunbather to pick a card, then place it back in the deck and he would shuffle it and send the entire deck flying in the air while attempting to catch the card with his toes, just proved too trying.

Korn gave up after three attempts. But he made it up by drawing the card from his mouth instead.

These are new-age magicians, who do not need sexy assistants, truckloads of props or even a stage to perform their tricks. As Benn explained, they can use anything around them for their tricks.

“What I love about the magic we do is that it is organic; I could have nothing with me, absolutely nothing. I can show up at somebody’s house and just borrow a cup and just do it. People really freak out when it’s with their own stuff.

“If I bring my own cup, somehow ... even though it’s impossible they will still try and think, ‘Well, it’s his own cup that he brought’. But if I went into your kitchen and took a big coffee mug and said stare at the coffee cup and then lifted it and a grapefruit appeared underneath it ... people go nuts! Some people run out of their houses,” said Benn with a smile.

Benn, a New Yorker, was already a professional magician at the age of 15. Like Korn, he did not receive any formal training. Both men honed their craft under apprenticeships.

Benn revealed that he trained under a famous “one-armed magician from Argentina” while Korn, who was born and raised in St Louis, Missouri, learned from a local magician, John Mendoza.

Both, however, already knew of each other before they started the show.

Benn explained: “We met through a mutual friend of ours who is The Librarian of The Magic Castle, an exclusive club in Los Angeles where magicians meet and perform. The Librarian, who is in charge of all these ancient books and manuscripts, put us together and that’s how we met.”

Performing in front of a camera is not the same as performing for a crowd as the camera takes centre stage for these magicians. Otherwise, the audience would miss what they are doing.

“When the shoot is on I have to be very aware of the camera’s position. So I have to work with the camera as though it’s another person. That’s part of the challenge. I have to communicate with the audience, to make them feel they are part of the act. If I ignore them then it’s like watching a documentary.

“There are two different styles so you have to try and really bring the camera in and sometimes bring the tricks right to the camera,” said Benn.

Cameras, though, are not as challenging as facing a cynical audience as the duo often do. But these magicians welcome a challenge and both are confident of turning the tables on the unbelievers. “It makes it more fun sometimes,” said Benn.

“Some people who are cynical ... that behaviour comes from something they’ve seen in the past. No one is born a cynic and I know that I can devastate a cynic with what I do.

“Sometimes it’s more fun because they think they’ve seen it all and the next thing you know ... when magic defies the laws of physics ... when that happens, cynics start to shake a little bit.”

Added Korn: “Some take longer to break than others. And for some it’s a certain type of magic that pushes them over ... it might be something more mind reading than say something appearing or disappearing. They need something deeper to really push them over the edge.

“The fun in performing is figuring out what their personalities are. But there might be five or six in the group, so your magic changes as you’re performing to pull them in so you can completely win over the crowd.”

Another aspect that favours these magicians is that they never run out of tricks and are able to keep it fresh for Mondo Magic viewers episode after episode.

“It’s brainstorming. It’s just like a scientist who comes up with a way of ... something he’s working on. Magicians are scientists in a way. Magicians sit around and think and think and experiment. One of the fun things about magic for me is to be creative and think of new ideas consistently,” said Korn.

Mondo Magic Singapore airs over AXN (Astro channel 17) on Tuesdays at 10pm, with repeats on Wednesdays (2am, 3pm) and Sundays (10.30am, 8pm).




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